Credit Where It’s Due

15 April 2015

The shortlist for the 2016 Man Booker International Prize, announced on Wednesday 13 April, is a great reminder of the wonderful breadth and variety of translated fiction available to readers today. The £50,000 prize is split equally between author and translator, a welcome recognition of the importance of translators’ work.

Boyd Tonkin, chair of the Man Booker International judges, said:

Our selection shows that the finest books in translation extend the boundaries not just of our world – but of the art of fiction itself.

It is sad, then, to still see coverage which ignores the part translators pay, giving little or no mention of their crucial part in making these books accessible to English readers.  

‘Name the Translator’ is an ongoing campaign, attempting to overcome the bad habits of reviewers and journalists. We asked Nicky Harman, co-chair of the SoA’s Translators Association committee, who said:

The 2016 Man Booker International Prize is highly significant for translators because for the first time the prize will be awarded to a book in English translation. With the MBIP recognizing the role translators play in bringing great literature to English-language readers, it is distressing when media coverage of this splendid prize fails even to mention their names.

Broadcasters also often ignore the input of translators. Last year the SoA wrote to the BBC asking them to address the lack of translator credits on their own website and to ensure they pass on the information for coverage. They have since renewed their commitment to credit translators of broadcast plays and readings.

Illustrators also suffer from being overlooked. Sarah McIntyre leads the ‘Pictures Mean Business’ campaign to rectify this:

Translators and illustrators are fighting side by side because of the way our work plays a vital role in a reader's experience of a book. We usually work freelance and like any business, our names become our brands, what people come to respect and look out for. But they can only do this if they know our names. We want to see our names included in award lists, on book covers, in digital book data, in the media, anywhere people are writing or talking about our books. 

Crediting contributors of all kinds is an aspect of our C.R.E.A.T.O.R. campaign for fair contracts. The O stands for ownership; ‘authors, including illustrators and translators, should be appropriately credited for all uses of their work and moral rights should be unwaivable’.

But the need to recognise contributions goes above and beyond contractual arrangements and commentators have a duty to ensure they lead the way in celebrating and rewarding all those who contribute to the literature we enjoy.

The importance of proper credit for translators and illustrators, as well as for authors, can’t be stressed too strongly. Without the work of those whose skill and sensitivity to language and its meanings makes it possible for English readers to enjoy the work of writers such as Orhan Pamuk, Elena Ferrante, Patrick Modiano and many others, we would be much the poorer. It’s essential that this work is recognised and properly credited by publishers, reviewers, and the media generally.

Philip Pullman, SoA President

The 2016 Man Booker International prize shortlist:

A General Theory of Oblivion by José Eduardo Agualusa, translated by Daniel Hahn.
The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante, translated by Ann Goldstein.
The Vegetarian by Han Kang, translated by Deborah Smith.
The Four Books by Yan Lianke, translated by Carlos Rojas.
A Strangeness in My Mind by Orhan Pamuk, translated by Ekin Oklap.
A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler, translated by Charlotte Collins.